Browns looking to climb from AFC North cellar

By TOM WITHERS - AP Sports Writer
    2013-08-27 14:26

CLEVELAND (AP) - For his entire pro career, Joe Thomas has known nothing but change, misery and losing.

Welcome to Cleveland.

Oh, sure, he's made six straight Pro Bowls with the Browns, earning the reliable and durable left tackle a yearly trip to Hawaii. Thomas, though, would trade all those vacations for one visit to the postseason.

``I want to go the playoffs,'' Thomas said earlier this summer. ``It's no fun playing in the NFL when you're going 4-12 every year. It's just not, it's drudgery.''

Those dreary days could be over.

With a first-year head coach who understands Cleveland's passion, more experienced players and a committed owner in Jimmy Haslam, the Browns appear to be on the verge of turning their fortunes. It's been six years since they had a winning record, and 11 since their last playoff appearance, but Thomas believes the Browns are poised to contend.

And when he closes his eyes, Thomas envisions a wintry day in January near Lake Erie when football, the way it once was in Cleveland, is back.

``I think about the day of me running out of the tunnel for a home playoff game, that's my dream,'' he said. ``That's why I show up every day.''

If the Browns are indeed going to improve, they must gain ground in the rugged AFC North. Cleveland is just 16-50 inside one of the league's toughest divisions and only 5-25 in the past five years.

Here's are five things to watch as Cleveland enters the 2013 season:

CHUD'S IN CHARGE: Like so many kids growing up in Ohio, Rob Chudzinski had his heart broken by the Browns. It's his job to try and fix a few. Cleveland's offensive coordinator in 2007 - when the Browns went 10-6 - Chudzinski takes over the team he rooted for as a youngster and one that has chewed up and spit out coaches at an alarming rate.

Chudzinski, he's ``Chud'' to everyone, is Cleveland's sixth coach since 1999. He spent the past two years as Carolina's offensive coordinator. With the Panthers, he directed a record-breaking offense he hopes to replicate in Cleveland. To assist him, the Browns hired offensive coordinator Norv Turner and defensive guru Ray Horton, two of the best coordinators on the market with proven track records.

Turner's job is to get the most out of second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden, who has the physical tools and could thrive in an offense designed to his strengths.

RICHARDSON READY TO RUMBLE: His ribs healed and 10 pounds lighter than a year ago, running back Trent Richardson is set for a breakout season - as long as he stays healthy. Richardson rushed for 950 yards as a rookie, when he played more than half the year with two broken ribs.

Richardson lacked the same burst as he had at Alabama, which is part of the reason he slimmed down to 225 pounds. The 23-year-old, who also underwent knee surgery last year, looked terrific in the preseason and credited his improvement to reviewing tapes of how he ran in college and high school. Richardson said it was ``time to get back to the basics.''

In the past, the feature running back in Turner's offense has topped 300 carries, and Richardson is looking forward to doing more ``than running between the tackles'' as he did a year ago.

``I'm looking towards no injury, no broken fingernails, nothing,'' he said. ``I know my whole season is based on being healthy and playing 16 games and hopefully in the playoffs.''

SOUTH IN THE NORTH: Unless they start winning division games, the Browns will stay stuck in the AFC North's basement - their home eight times in 11 years.

Since their return in 1999, the Browns have gone just 16-50 against Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati. They've never gone better than 3-3, and that came in their only two winning seasons (2002, 2007) since their expansion rebirth.

The Browns have been competitive inside the division, but losing close games doesn't cut it.

With the Steelers rebuilding, the Ravens losing key contributors from their Super Bowl title team, and the Bengals being, well, the unpredictable Bengals, the Browns could close the gap on their three rivals.

``I think we're making good strides,'' Thomas said. ``But we've got to win games to prove we've made strides.''

WEEDEN'S GROWTH: On a wall inside the Browns' draft room is a list of things the team feels it must do ``On The Path To The Super Bowl.'' Near the top is: ``Have a championship-caliber quarterback.''

Brandon Weeden has this year to show he is one.

Following an up-and-down-and-sideways rookie season, Weeden heads into his second year confident he can lead the Browns back to respectability. He's got the arm, but the Browns just aren't 100 percent certain he has the other intangibles to push them into playoff contention.

Weeden turns 30 in October, so the clock is ticking on both him and the team. The Browns signed veteran Jason Campbell as a backup in case Weeden fails this year and they acquired some extra draft picks in 2014, ammunition in case they have to maneuver to find their future QB.

Weeden won't have his top target for the first two games as wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended for failing the NFL's drug policy.

ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK: Cleveland's defense will have moving parts. More precisely, blitzing parts.

Horton has switched the Browns from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme, one that puts a premium on pressuring the quarterback. Cleveland restocked its defensive front, signing free agent linebackers Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves, end Desmond Bryant and drafting Barkevious Mingo with the No. 6 overall pick.

With the Arizona Cardinals last season, Horton's defense had the NFL's lowest opposing quarterback rating (71.2 percent), ranked second in third-down efficiency (32.9) and interceptions (22) and was third in red-zone defense (44.4).

It's a high-risk, high-reward approach, and if nothing else, it will be fun to watch.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Jamie CollinsNov 29 08:03p

New England Patriots WR Danny Amendola (knee), CB Justin Coleman (hand), LB Jamie Collins (illness), WR Julian Edelman (foot), DL Trey Flowers, S Jordan Richards and TE Michael Williams [ More ]

Peyton ManningNov 29 08:03p

Denver Broncos Sam Brenner, Lorenzo Doss, Richard Gordon, QB Peyton Manning (foot), WR Jordan Norwood, QB Christian Ponder and DE DeMarcus Ware (back) were inactive for the Week 12 [ More ]

Emmanuel SandersNov 29 08:03p

Denver Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders (ankle, finger) is active for the Week 12 game against the New England Patriots despite an ankle and finger issue.

Danny AmendolaNov 29 07:53p

New England Patriots WR Danny Amendola (knee) is inactive for the Week 12 game against the Denver Broncos.

Devin SmithNov 29 07:43p

New York Jets WR Devin Smith had two catches for 33 yards and his first career touchdown in a 38-20 win over the Miami Dolphins in Week 12.

Jarvis LandryNov 29 07:43p

Miami Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry finished with 13 catches on 16 targets for 165 yards and a touchdown in a 38-20 loss to New York Jets in Week 12.

Eric DeckerNov 29 07:33p

New York Jets WR Eric Decker had five catches for 62 yards and a touchdown in a 38-20 win over the Miami Dolphins in Week 12.

Jeremy HillNov 29 07:23p

Cincinnati Bengals RB Jeremy Hill (ankle) suffered an ankle injury in the Week 12 game against the St. Louis Rams, but he said Sunday, Nov. 29, after the game that he was OK.

Ryan FitzpatrickNov 29 07:23p

New York Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 22 of 37 passes for 277 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-20 win over the Miami Dolphins in Week 12.

Tyler EifertNov 29 07:23p

Cincinnati Bengals TE Tyler Eifert (neck) suffered a stinger in the Week 12 win against the St. Louis Rams. He said Sunday, Nov. 29, that he is fine.

Brandon MarshallNov 29 07:23p

New York Jets WR Brandon Marshall had nine catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-20 win over the Miami Dolphins in Week 12.

Jimmy GrahamNov 29 07:13p

Seattle Seahawks TE Jimmy Graham (leg) suffered a lower right leg injury in the fourth quarter of the Week 12 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and he was carted [ More ]

Tavon AustinNov 29 06:53p

St. Louis Rams WR Tavon Austin had four carries for 63 yards and caught six passes for 33 yards in a 31-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Todd GurleyNov 29 06:43p

St. Louis Rams RB Todd Gurley had just 19 yards rushing in a 31-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Nov. 29.

A.J. GreenNov 29 06:33p

Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green caught six passes for 61 yards and scored two touchdowns in a 31-7 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, Nov. 29.

Andy DaltonNov 29 06:23p

Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton tossed three touchdown passes and was 20 of 27 for 233 yards Sunday, Nov. 29, in a 31-7 win over the St. Louis Rams.

Nick FolesNov 29 06:23p

St. Louis Rams QB Nick Foles struggled in his return to the lineup, as he was 30 of 46 for 228 yards along with three interceptions in a 31-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Spencer WareNov 29 06:13p

Kansas City Chiefs RB Spencer Ware rushed for 114 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries in the team's Week 12 game against the Buffalo Bills.

Jeremy MaclinNov 29 06:13p

Kansas City Chiefs WR Jeremy Maclin caught nine passes for 160 yards and one touchdown in the team's Week 12 game against the Buffalo Bills.

Donte MoncriefNov 29 06:03p

Indianapolis Colts WR Donte Moncrief caught eight passes for 114 yards but did not score in a 25-12 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, Nov. 29.

Alex SmithNov 29 06:03p

Kansas City Chiefs QB Alex Smith went 19-for-30 for 255 yards and two touchdowns against the Buffalo Bills Sunday, Nov. 29. He also rushed for 35 yards on six carries during the game.

Doug MartinNov 29 06:03p

Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Doug Martin ran 14 times for 97 yards and eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau Sunday, Nov. 29, in a 25-12 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Tyrod TaylorNov 29 05:53p

Buffalo Bills QB Tyrod Taylor went 21-for-38 for 291 yards and three touchdowns in the team's Week 12 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. He also rushed for 46 yards on five carries.

T Y HiltonNov 29 05:53p

Indianapolis Colts WR T.Y. Hilton caught six balls for 95 yards and scored twice in a 25-12 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sammy WatkinsNov 29 05:53p

Buffalo Bills WR Sammy Watkins caught six passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the team's Week 12 game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Jameis WinstonNov 29 05:43p

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston threw for 245 yards and one touchdown in a 25-12 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Nov. 29. Winston was sacked five [ More ]

Matt HasselbeckNov 29 05:33p

Indianapolis Colts QB Matt Hasselbeck threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns as the Colts defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 25-12, on Sunday, Nov. 29.

Adrian PetersonNov 29 05:33p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries in the team's Week 12 game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Matt RyanNov 29 05:33p

Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan went 22-for-31 for 230 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in the team's Week 12 game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Eli ManningNov 29 05:03p

New York Giants QB Eli Manning went 26-for-51 for 321 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions in the team's Week 12 game against the Washington Redskins.

Odell Beckham Jr.Nov 29 05:03p

New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. caught nine passes for 142 yards and one touchdown in the team's Week 12 game against the Washington Redskins.

Allen HurnsNov 29 04:23p

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Allen Hurns (concussion) was taken off the field on a stretcher after he suffered a concussion during the team's Week 12 game.

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
Player Notes:
Forum Posts:

© 2015 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group